Tapestry commission


Tapestry Commissions and Choices for the Home

Ulrika Leander shares her latest project, a commission celebrating 30 years of marriage.

Living with a tapestry doesn’t require a castle. The interiors of many modern houses and apartments are truly amenable to them and a custom-designed, site-specific tapestry never fails to enrich the beauty of the home.

About ten months ago a man called me up and told me that he wanted to commission a tapestry for his wife for their 30th wedding anniversary. I was rather amazed about the kind of gift he wanted for his wife; many men do not think further than jewelry for anniversary presents. However, this husband wanted something very special for their home, something that every day would remind them about thirty happy years together. He asked me if I thought he should discuss his idea with his wife and I immediately advised him to do so since a fairly large tapestry must be something both of them like and can imagine living with for the rest of their lives.

Our first meeting took place in my studio where I showed them images of previous commissions and also an ongoing tapestry on the loom so they could understand the process and the time and effort that goes into a hand-woven tapestry. Over the years I have kept all my designs which are very helpful in showing how I work and demonstrating the intensification of colors that occurs when the water-color design is magnified some 8-10 times in the final woven tapestry.

It was very good that the husband decided not to make this a surprise and involved his wife from the outset. In the early discussion he was convinced that she wanted a tapestry with flowers but what she really wanted was a tapestry with geese flying off from their water front property. It turns out that she has a love-hate relationship with the hundreds of geese that land and make a lot of noise and mess up their lawn. She is amazed by their beauty and power but also quite often runs out and chases them away.

The second meeting took place in their home and most of the time was spent discussing which wall would best lend itself for a tapestry. A few rules apply for siting a tapestry. Firstly, keep the tapestry out of direct sunlight; the sun is a killer. Secondly, keep the tapestry as free as possible from dirt, dust and sticky fingers and try to avoid large temperature changes; hanging a tapestry close to an active fireplace is not a good idea.

I must admit that this was the first ever commission during more than thirty-five years in this field that I have been asked to design and weave Canada geese. A new challenge and I was very eager to start working on a meaningful design for this couple.

I often try to make two or three designs to give the client choices. I never charge any design fee because I strongly believe that if the artist can’t come up with a design that pleases the client, it is the artist’s problem and the client shouldn’t have to pay for that. Below on the easel to the right is the design this couple picked. To personalize this design, I included thirty geese to mark the thirty years they have been married. The tapestry, which I named “Migration”, is slowly growing on the loom.

Geese flying

6ft x 4ft
Warp: 100% cotton
Weft: 100% wool (moth proofed)


History of tapestries

In the middle Ages, tapestries had a purely utilitarian function. They were originally designed to protect medieval rooms from damp and cold weather, to cover austere walls of big castles, or to insulate big rooms into more comfortable quarters. Tapestries used for furnishing big stone castles were very big in size and they required big looms, many workers and high capital investments. Thus, manufactories of this type arose in prosperous localities, usually weaving centers. By 1500, Flanders, especially Brussels and Bruges, had become the chief places of production. Due to their size and intricacy, tapestries became investments and displays of wealth and power.

In these early tapestries, isolated figures or compact groups stood out against a background that was generally plain or embellished with plant motifs or flowers, those are called « mille fleurs » tapestries (thousand flowers). Tapestry became beside painting, sculpture and architectures one of the major visual art forms.

Tapestry became as well more complex, depicting crowded battle scenes or large groups of figures arranged in tiers under architectural constructions. Later in the 16th century, patrons chose to depict one or another of their favorite pastimes: the hunt, peasants at work and play (often themselves in disguise). Then came fashionable verdure’s, pastoral landscapes in which their estates were often depicted.

The art form required rich patronage, virtually all of the now famous manufacturers: Beauvais, Arras, Gobelins, Aubusson, Felletin, Audenarde, Bruges, Ghent, flourished where wealthy kings and church monarchs held domain. Naturally, those who commissioned them selected the subjects. All those famous manufacturers were located in the northern part of France and Flanders, the Flemish part of Belgium now. In the 17th century, the first royal factory of Les Gobelins in Paris was established. Hundreds of tapestry makers worked at Les Gobelins during this period.

Craftsmen worked in groups on one painting at a time and wove their art form into the rich and colorful scenes shown in this gallery. The designers have always had an enormous role in making truly fine tapestry. Such is the case of Francois Boucher, designer for Beauvais since 1736. During 30 years, he designed six tapestry sets of 4-9 pieces each. At least 400 tapestries were woven after his cartons, splendid masterpieces of the Rococo style. By the end of the eighteenth century, wallpaper replaced wall coverings of wool and silk.
Because of the Industrial Revolution and the creation of automated processes, such as mechanical looms and weaving machines, plain fabrics could be mass-produced at a much greater rate and lower cost than in the past. Unfortunately, skill workers at a great expense could still only generate anything other than extremely simple patterns. Tapestry weaving became very expensive.

Around 1805, Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752-1834), developed the concept and made a more sophisticated loom using “punched cards” to command the position of each thread in the weaving process. Jacques de Vaucanson created the first mechanical looms in the second half of the XVIIIth century. With the knowledge of making designs for tapestries and weaving, Flanders became one of the most important areas were ateliers were located. Now these days the best Jacquard looms are used to produce very fine jacquard tapestries. The looms became increasingly sophisticated. This means there is more flexibility to create new tapestries.
The greatness of old Flanders could not be better illustrated than by one of its most famous export product: Belgian Tapestry. In the weaving of tapestry, artistic flair and craftsmanship were combined to produce treasures, which are now housed in private collections, renowned museums and public buildings worldwide. Today, this noble art lives on in the tapestry products manufactured and distributed by Mille Fleurs Tapestries.



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This article is about the textile art. For other uses, see Tapestry (disambiguation).

One of the tapestries in the series The Hunt of the Unicorn: The Unicorn is Found, circa 1495-1505, the Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Tapestry is a form of textile art, traditionally woven on a vertical loom. However, it can also be woven on a floor loom. It is composed of two sets of interlaced threads, those running parallel to the length (called the warp) and those parallel to the width (called the weft); the warp threads are set up under tension on a loom, and the weft thread is passed back and forth across part or all of the warps. Tapestry is weft-faced weaving, in which all the warp threads are hidden in the completed work, unlike cloth weaving where both the warp and the weft threads may be visible. In tapestry weaving, weft yarns are typically discontinuous; the artisan interlaces each coloured weft back and forth in its own small pattern area. It is a plain weft-faced weave having weft threads of different colours worked over portions of the warp to form the design.[1][2]

Most weavers use a natural warp thread, such as linen or cotton. The weft threads are usually wool or cotton, but may include silk, gold, silver, or other alternatives.


First attested in English in 1467, the word tapestry derives from Old French tapisserie, from tapisser,[3] meaning “to cover with heavy fabric, to carpet”, in turn from tapis, “heavy fabric”, via Latin tapes (GEN tapetis),[4] which is the latinisation of the Greek τάπης (tapēs; GEN τάπητος, tapētos), “carpet, rug”.[5] The earliest attested form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek

What is tapestry


What is Tapestry?

Tapestry is a great mural art. We look back to its high point in the Middle Ages and marvel at the power of those great suites. But why is this? Great tapestries tell stories. They record the past and project the future.” Sue Walker, “Threads of Life,” 2001

Here . . . are the dreams, the legends and the everyday occupations of our mediaeval forefathers, naively related by Gothic tapestries; the pomp, the power and the glory of kings boasted by the tapestries of Flanders, Italy and the Gobelins; and our 20th-century conquests, our joys and our anguish, and our artistic experimentation mirrored in contemporary tapestry.” –Joseph Jobe, 1965, Great Tapestries: The Web of History from the 12th to the 20th Century.(Edita S.A. Lausanne, Switzerland)

What is tapestry? From past to present, tapestry is arguably the most expressive and versatile of the textile arts. Tapestry-woven objects range from wall hangings to carpets and seat cushions, to garments, hats and shoes. They may be huge or tiny. They might be flexible or stiff, somber or bright, rough or smooth. And most importantly, their designs may be almost anything under the sun.

From prehistory to the present day, people from many cultures and times have created and used fabrics in tapestry weave (which is defined and illustrated below). Pre-Columbian Inca tunics, Egyptian Coptic medallions, Chinese k’ossu, Middle Eastern kilim carpets, European wall hangings, and Navajo blankets and rugs all utilize the handwoven tapestry technique.

Navajo Indian ye’ii rug designed & woven by Mary Long, Santa Fe Collection

Today, tapestry remains a rich art form, with varied imagery, textures, and shapes. Contemporary designs range from bold abstraction to convincing realism.

Tapestry Defined

What is tapestry? Tapestry weave is a specific, hand-woven, textile construction. In tapestry designs, the different colored threads of the weft interlace with the foundation threads of the warp, and the color makes a pattern. We define tapestry with a classic characterization by Irene Emery in her book, The Primary Structures of Fabrics—“weft-faced plain weave with discontinuous weft patterning.”

Tapestry weave with interlocked join Tapestry weave with slit junctures
Tapestry weave with dovetailed join Tapestry weave with diagonal juncture
Whether using horizontal (floor) looms or vertical (upright) looms, weavers may employ either simple or complex mechanisms, but the tapestry artist always operates the loom by hand and must interlace each yarn, pass by pass, across the fabric. The artist’s interlacing of adjoining colors, one by one, gives tapestry its expressive character.
Tapestries may contain yarns of any fiber or combination—wool, silk, linen, and cotton are the most common. The front and back of a tapestry may be identical, each with the completely finished design and all yarn ends concealed. In contrast, many tapestries show the final image only on the front, and the reverse side reveals a tangle of loose threads.

Tapestry Variations

The GFR Tapestry Center acknowledges the fascinating gray areas between tapestry and related techniques. Tapestry weave has spurred many innovations, sometimes through the use of differing fabric structures. For instance:

  • Kashmiri shawls employ a complex twill tapestry weave instead of plain weave.
  • Navajo weavers sometimes use a two-faced tapestry weave in which wefts have over-1/under-3 interlacement and different patterns appear on each side of a rug.
  • Navajo rug with two-faced twill & tapestry weaves, designed & woven by Lucy Wilson, Santa Fe Collection
  • Contemporary tapestry weavers may break with tradition by exposing warps, floating wefts over more than one warp, or embroidering on top of their woven work.
  • “After Big John’s Special,” a GFR Tapestry designed by Clifford Ross, woven by Mollie Fletcher in handpicked overshot weave (“rosepath” variation), 1978
In considering what books to add to our library or which artists to include in our reference files, the GFR Tapestry Program focuses on weavers worldwide whose works derive in some way from classic tapestry techniques. We tend, however, to be inclusive rather than exclusive in our choices. Hurrah for variety!

Commission a tapestry – by Meghan Carter


DSCN2231    Wall tapestries have a long history that stretches back well into the Middle Ages where kings and lords commissioned large teams of artisans to produce elaborate suites of tapestries to adorn the walls of their castles. Amazingly, tapestry artists today are creating even more beautiful and elaborate works of art that can adorn the walls of your castle, or single-room, loft apartment. You can even have a tapestry commissioned, creating a one-of-a-kind, personal piece of art for your home. To help you do just that, I sat down with tapestry artist Pamela Tophan and had her walk me through the tapestry commissioning process. After all, who better to get advice from about tapestries than from a tapestry artist.Step 1: Determine What you WantHow can you find someone to make you something if you don’t know what it is you want? So, sit down, and spend some serious time reflecting about what would fit best in your home and in what location the tapestry would hang. You can find tapestries that range from gorgeous landscapes, Pamela’s specialty, to minimalistic, modern motifs. Use your imagination and see what comes out. If you can imagine it, you can find an artist to create it.Step 2: Find the Right Tapestry Artist

Once you know what you want, it’s time to become more familiar with tapestry community. Search the Internet, browse galleries and find tapestry artist that do work similar to what you envision.
“Look around at many different tapestry weavers,” Pamela suggested. “You can see on the Internet now, you can find different artist, and it gives you the idea of the composition because it’s very hard to copy the texture. So, if you take some time to look around and find the kind of thing you like and then you might have a studio visit to that artist and sit and talk with them.”
According to Pamela, having an in-person conversation is very important because both you and the artist must be on the same page. The end result is really a collaboration between both your vision and the artist’s vision. So getting to know the artist and selecting an artist that fits with your vision in vital.

Step 3: Setting up the Project

Once you have narrowed your artist search and found the best artist for your particular tapestry, it’s time to make the necessary arrangements. Those include deciding on a size, rough timeline and price. The size is determined by what you would like in the envisioned space. The timeline will depend on the scale and complexity of your piece and the artist’s prior engagements.
“I could be able to say, ‘okay I can start that right away,’ or it could be, ‘I have to finish this and I’m putting together a whole show; I can’t start till next November,'” Pamela explained. “But if I can start it right away, then I’ll know about how long it will take, a month, two months, whatever.”
As for the price, that will vary greatly depending on the artist and the piece. But the important thing to remember is, no matter the price, get a contract. Often artists will let art galleries handle the business arrangement, which frees the artists to concentrate on doing what they love: creating the art.
“You can write out a contract so that everybody knows what to expect,” Pamela said. “Mostly I’ve dealt with the gallery, and they’ll write up the contract so that the business side is taken care of. If you’re doing it personally, sometimes that can be a little harder. So, it’s nice to have that professional, you know, the gallerist that knows exactly how this is done and that’s how they get their commission.”

Step 4: Approving the Mock-up

With the logistics out of the way, you and the artist can begin the creative process where you describe what you envision, with photos, words, in writing, etc., and the artist translated that into a rough sketch. Now, no two artists have the same creative process, but in general there will be a rough sketch, and once it is approved then the artist will start weaving the tapestry.
“For the most part you’re going to start with a drawing of some sort,” Pamela said. “You might come to [the artist] with a photo graph and say, this is a place where when I was in Italy, and I want this in tapestry.  Then for me I have to work from a drawing, I can’t work from a photograph. So I’m going to interpret that photo in a drawing, and then it goes from the drawing to the weaving.”

Step 5: The Unveiling

With much anticipation, the finished tapestry will be delivered on site and installed where it can be admired and enjoyed for years to come. Just as no two wall tapestries are alike, no two commission processes are the same, and the amount of satisfaction during the unveiling hangs on how well you handle the process as much as how talented the artist.

Art Consultants

An art consultant is a person who consults individuals or businesses about which pieces of art they should acquire. This advice may be used for a wide range of purposes, from building a personal collection for enjoyment, to designing an art program for a chain of hotels, to building an investment portfolio. Fine art is considered a relatively stable long-term investment, if properly handled, and so many individuals or businesses with money to invest turn to it in times of economic turmoil.

Wealthy individuals often turn to an art consultant when purchasing a new house, or redecorating an existing house, to help them get the art on the walls that they most want. The art world is in constant flux, and keeping track of which pieces are for sale, and what new artists are hot, is a full time job. A skilled art consultant will meet with a client and get a feel for their likes and dislikes, take down their budget, and note any specific pieces the client is looking for. They will then help track down the desired pieces at auction, and recommend new or unexpected artists to help fill out the collection. Rates for consultants vary widely, depending on expertise, overall budget, and the size of the desired collection.

Businesses are also often in need of art for their locations, and they may hire a freelance art consultant, or may have an in-house art consultant. These consultants are responsible for keeping a cohesive feel throughout the business’ many properties, staying within budget while reflecting the feel of the company. Hotels, for example, may use a number of art consultants to design a comprehensive art program for their chain, either with similar art throughout, or with regionally-appropriate art.

Finally, an art consultant may serve principally as an investment adviser to individual or corporate clients. In this case, the consultant is expected to have a very comprehensive understanding of trends in the art world, including which new artists are rising stars, which artists are undervalued, and where large risks may be taken for potentially large gains. These consultants work hand in hand with clients to diversify an art portfolio at auction, or through private sales to reach the level of risk-to-gain they desire.

Most art consultants have at least an undergraduate degree in Art History, or a similar major, and many have advanced degrees. Many art consultants have worked in some professional capacity in the art world before becoming independent consultants, often working at large auction houses, or in galleries. A number of large art consulting firms exist, as well, employing tens or hundreds of employees in order to cover various specialties for clients.

In addition to traditional framed fine art, many consultants work with other types of art as well. Some consultants specialize in textile arts, while others specialize in sculpture, or installation arts. Many consultants also have a background in interior design, and, as part of their services, may offer to broker other decorative pieces, such as antiques, or craft objects.

Contemporary International Tapestry


For Immediate Release                                                                                                                     Media Contact:

David Harding

Email: dave@hunterdonartmuseum.org

Three Generations of Tapestry Artists Featured in HAM Exhibition

Clinton, NJ  – Tapestries might conjure up images of medieval castles, unicorns and other mythical beasts, but a new exhibition at the Hunterdon Art Museum weaves a fascinating picture of how the art form has evolved in the past 70 years.

Contemporary International Tapestry highlights the work of three generations of artists from nine countries who are elevating tapestry to a whole new level of technical and aesthetic excellence. The exhibition opens Jan. 11, 2015, with a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. featuring talks from artists from around the world. Everyone is welcome to attend.

“At the Museum, visitors can appreciate in intimate settings all aspects of the broad scope of today’s tapestries and the individuality of their makers,” said Carol K. Russell, curator for the exhibition and a leading expert in the field. “There is no sameness of imagery; no stiffness of the noble class; no disconnect from present-day life and concerns.  People, animals, symbols, abstractions – and even new ways of visualizing a familiar thought or theme – are brought to life in the hands of artists from various cultures and countries. “

The exhibition featuring 39 artists will fill three of the four Museum galleries, includes loom work by some of the most renowned artists working today, among them:

  • Archie Brennan, a leading international figure in tapestry for more than 25 years.  Brennan joined his fellow artisans in 1948, as an apprentice, and has served as director of the prestigious and award-winning Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh.
  • Joan Baxter is inspired by the rich cultural heritage and wild beauty of the highlands of Scotland where she resides. “I choose to work in the traditional woven tapestry medium because I like the way my initial ideas can develop and expand during the slow and deliberate making process,” Baxter notes. “The process, although a very ancient one, allows me to push boundaries in design, technique, materials and concepts.”
  • Designer Yael Lurie and tapestry weaver Jean Pierre Larochette have collaborated on work for more than four decades and across three continents.  Lurie, daughter of a painter, was brought up in a kibbutz in Israel and trained as a painter. Larochette, born in Argentina, is descended from a long line of French Aubusson weavers. The two met through the patronage of Jean Lurcat, the Frenchman widely credited for reviving tapestry in 20th-century France. “The history of tapestry in the U.S. in the latter part of the 20th century owes much of its success, direction and development to Jean Pierre Larochette and Yael Lurie” according to Susan Martin Maffei, another internationally known tapestry artist whose grand-scale tapestry appears in HAM’s exhibition.
  • Polish artist Włodzimierz Cygan has always been on the cutting edge of tapestry and textile architecture and continues to reinvent his medium and his messages. Such talent has been rewarded with the Bronze Medal at the sixth International Fiber Art Biennial from Lausanne to Beijing and Zhengzhou, China. His tapestry, Orbitrek 29, earned the Grand Prix at the 12th International Triennial of Tapestry in Lodz, Poland.

“We hope visitors will take away a new perspective on an ancient art form,” Russell writes. “Tapestry can and shall endure through the centuries, though its messages have become more personal. The art form has indeed evolved and become its truest self in the hands of individuals.”

Other artists featured in the exhibition are: Jo Barker, Helga Berry, Rebecca Bluestone,  Elizabeth J. Buckley, Soyoo Hyunjoo Park Caltabiano, Alla Davydova, Annelise De Coursin, Susan Edmunds, Alex Friedman, Ina Golub, Barbara Heller, Susan Hart Henegar, Silvia Heyden, Dirk Holger, Peter Horn, Constance Hunt, Susan Iverson, Ruth Jones, Aino Kajaniemi, Jane Kidd, Lialia Kuchma, Christine Laffer, Ewa Latkowska-Żychska, Bojana H. Leznicki, Lore Lindenfeld, Julia Mitchell, Janet Moore, Jon Eric Riis, Ramona Sakiestewa, Micala Sidore, Elinor Steele, Sarah Swett and Linda Wallace.

To commemorate and celebrate this exhibition, Russell has written a new book, Contemporary International Tapestry, to be released by Schiffer Publishing early next year featuring images and information about the artists included in the exhibition.

The exhibition closes May 10, 2015.

The Museum also plans several programs related to the exhibition:

  • Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, at 2 p.m. – Weaving Demonstration and Guided Tour with curator Carol K. Russell. Free with admission. Registration is required as space is limited.
  • Sunday, March 22, 2015, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  – A Day of Contemporary Tapestry featuring lectures with artists Archie Brennan and Susan Martin Maffei as well as an interactive demonstration with Brennan.
  • Sunday, April 19, 2015, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. – Handweaving Tapestries with Carol K. Russell for children ages 6 and up.


The Museum is at 7 Lower Center St. in Clinton, New Jersey, 08809. Our website is www.hunterdonartmuseum.org and our telephone number is 908-735-8415. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 11 am – 5 pm and suggested admission is $5.


The Hunterdon Art Museum presents changing exhibitions of contemporary art, craft and design in a 19th century stone mill listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Founded in 1952, the Museum is a landmark regional art center showcasing works by established and emerging contemporary artists. It also offers a dynamic schedule of art classes and workshops for children and adults.